Weeds have worked their way between the boards of the Klingener Fishing Pier during the year it has sat vacant in the shadow of the Assemblywoman Dolores Cooper Bridge along Longport Boulevard.
Like many fishing piers in South Jersey, the Klingener pier in Egg Harbor Township was created from the remnant of an old bridge — nicknamed the “Rickety Bridge” — that once part of the causeway between Longport and Somers Point.
The pier seemed like a good idea when it opened in 1989, but some officials say the burden of maintaining and policing such public piers has become more trouble than anticipated.
“There are hardships involved in keeping this pier,” said Dennis Levinson, executive for Atlantic County, which maintains the bridge. “(But) it’s closed because of the carelessness of individuals that go there and set a fire.”
Klingener, a popular fishing pier for decades, was also known as a site for lewd behavior and petty vandalism. But it was a pair of fires — both in July 2011 and both sparked by cigarettes — that closed the pier for good.
With several bridges still in need of repair following Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, Levinson said the damage caused by the last pier fire is a low priority.
“We’re not going to put our engineering staff on this and worry about this because it’s recreational,” he said. “We had to prioritize and, of course, this takes a back seat.”
County Public Works Director Bill Reinert said the pier had cost the county more than $12,000 per year for basic maintenance and utilities.
“One thing that became a real headache is people pushing over the Port-a-Johns,” he said. “It’s not something our maintenance guys enjoyed dealing with.”
Less than a mile away, the Cape May County Bridge Commission has had to contend with vandals and inconsiderate users at the pier that was opened in conjunction with the replacement Ocean City-Longport Bridge in 2002.
“The vandalism is terrible,” said interim Executive Director Linda Gilles. “They even take the bolts that hold the railing and use them as (fishing) weights.”
Gilles said vandals have continually broken pier lights. They’ve also destroyed a glass-cased bulletin board and gazebo. Trash cans — which are used by dog walkers from the park across the road — are often overturned, their contents strewn across the parking lot.
Dave Williamson, 57, of Upper Township, said he preferred fishing from the quieter Klingener pier but has taken to fishing by the Ocean City-Longport Bridge and the new pier on the Route 52 causeway.
“It gets a little rough out here, especially after a long weekend, but the crews do a good job of it, all things considered,” he said.
After receiving police reports of RVs camping in the pier parking lot this summer, the commission asked Egg Harbor Township to introduce an ordinance allowing their officers to step up enforcement at the pier, which is at the southeasternmost corner of the municipality.
“The fishing pier is in an isolated area,” Gilles said. “We have to make it safe for everyone who wants to visit the pier.”
Despite its location, she said, Cape May County Public Works collects trash and performs maintenance at the pier. Traditionally, Egg Harbor Township has patrolled the area, although they have limited enforcement power without a municipal ordinance.
Township Administrator Peter Miller said the municipality agreed to draft an ordinance, which will be considered at a future meeting, although the pier will likely be a low-priority area if police are needed elsewhere.
“That area does not have high patrols out there, so unless somebody calls to say there’s an issue out there, the amount of times we’d randomly drive out there is really limited,” he said.
While there are a number of fishing spots in the back bays of Egg Harbor Township, it isn’t the only area with problem piers. The Ventnor Fishing Pier had been a draw for trespassers and vandals prior to a major renovation project four years ago. The Beesleys Point Bridge in Upper Township continues to be a popular fishing spot despite its closing in 2004 due to structural problems. The Turnpike Authority announced this week that it will be demolished.
Levinson said Atlantic County also had to place restrictions on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway in Longport. Now, people can fish there only between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. in the off-season.
“It was mostly inconsiderate fishermen who would take up the whole bridge and walkways, so runners and bicycle people — and people with baby carriages — could not get through,” he said. “They had to go out on the road, which created a hazard.”
There were also reports, Levinson said, of fishermen trespassing on adjacent properties and urinating on and around the bridge.
For now, Atlantic County officials say they don’t have an estimate for how much it will cost to repair the Klingener pier.
Reinert said he doesn’t understand why pier users can’t be more considerate.
“I don’t know why it is,” he said. “Usually fishing folks are relaxing, doing the enjoyable fishing thing.”
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